For years, the US officials have struggled to curb Afghanistan's opium industry. According to The Sacramento Bee, the government has spent more than $6 million dollars in the past ten years to combat the poppies that serve to help finance the insurgency and fuel corruption.
The news reports that this month a blight and bad weather destroyed much of the opium harvest in the south of Afghanistan. Officials know from past seasons that blight years lead to skyrocketing opium prices. In following years, even greater planting efforts are made. A poppy farmer in the south, who only harvested 1 kilogram of opium poppy this year compared with 15 last year, said, "Now I am desperate, what can I do? I don't have any cash to start another business, and if I grow any other crops, I cannot make a profit."
The allure of profit has maintained the battle against the poppy. In 2008, Richard Holbrooke wrote, "Breaking the narco-state in Afghanistan is essential, or all else will fail." As we send more troops over there, US leaders still emphasize the importance of fighting the opium industry, but some privately concede there is little chance for large-scale success before the end of NATO military mission in 2014.
The opium poppy, much like coca grown in Columbia and Peru, pose a number of problems. There is so much money to be made form these crops, that political players, law enforcement, an even government officials want a cut, leading to extensive corruption.
The Taliban supports the drug trade, directly protecting opium farmers and indirectly shielding traffickers. William Brownfield, the State Department's assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement said, "Drugs are not the only priority issue for Afghanistan. But by the same token, if you do not address the drug issue you will not succeed in the other security, stability, democracy, propensity objectives you were aiming for."
Officials say even the successful efforts to curb the opium industry are not likely to be sustainable. A prime example is a combined US and British venture in the Helmand River Valley, which is located in the heart of a province that produces nearly half of the country's opium. Since its beginning in 2009, this military mission has succeeded in a 33% decrease in opium poppy cultivation in the area. This mission also created jobs and other crops, to sustain these people. But, the troops are leaving and many of the incentive programs are closing down, unless Afghanistan's counter narcotics minister can persuade renewal.
The devastated poppy farmer in southern Afghanistan claims that nothing will replace the opium poppy. He said, "The poppy is always good, you can sell it at any time. It is like gold, you can sell it whenever and get cash."